American food firm Tyson Foods and its beef and pork subsidiary, Tyson Fresh Meats, issued a joint statement on Monday announcing that work has restarted at its Pasco, WA beef plant after the facility was temporarily idled on April 23 to allow the company to test its workers for the novel coronavirus.
“The health and safety of our team members is our top priority,” Shane Miller, senior vice president and general manager, beef enterprise, said in a statement. “While the plant was idle, we performed a deep clean and sanitization of the facility and took proactive steps to complement our existing prevention efforts.”
Workers at the Pasco plant were instructed to self-isolate during the shutdown and will only be allowed to return to their shifts if they have met CDC criteria for safely returning to workplaces. Those who have not completed COVID-19 testing will not be permitted to return to work. The company said new hires must complete coronavirus testing prior to starting their positions.
“Information is the best tool to fight COVID-19, and we’re focused on further educating our team members about CDC guidance to prevent spreading the virus,” said Miller. “We have a diverse workforce and will provide this education in all languages spoken among team members.”
Tyson has implemented a range of new social distancing and protective measures based on CDC and OSHA guidance for meat and poultry processing workers and employers, including using infrared thermometers to check workers’ temperatures prior to entering the building; requiring workers to use face shields in areas without workstation barriers; and providing protective facial coverings to each employee. The company is also using social distance monitors to help staff adhere to the new safety and social distancing requirements.
In April, The US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released joint coronavirus-related interim guidance for meatpacking and meat processing workers and employers – including those involved in beef, pork and poultry operations.
The chairman of Tyson Foods published a full-page letter in The New York Times late last month warning Americans that the country’s “food supply chain is breaking.” Tyson was recently forced to “indefinitely” close a pork processing plant after over 100 COVID-19 cases were connected to the facility. 22 meat facilities have closed over the last two months, Bloomberg reported, causing the US pork processing capacity to drop by a quarter and beef processing capacity to dip by 10%. One estimate suggests that 80% of the nation’s meat processing capacity could be impacted by closures.